With Ohio EPA (OEPA) pushing an accelerated timeline, Defiance city officials are forging ahead on planning for a new water filtration system.

Granulated activated carbon (GAC) is one way to eliminate the trihalomethanes (TTHMs) in refined city water that OEPA officials believe are harmful to human health and want removed. TTHMs are a by-product of the refining process and have been found prominently in areas where city water sits for longer periods.

Engineering work on the new GAC system already is underway by the firm Stantec at a cost of $142,647. But some $700,000 more will be needed to complete the engineering work and begin construction design, according to city officials.

City council plans to convene a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the city service building, 631 Perry St., to consider legislation permitting the final engineering with Stantec due to insistence by OEPA that the project proceed more rapidly.

City officials already had been moving toward construction of the GAC system to deal with TTHMs as well as taste and odor issues, but wanted to proceed more slowly with construction. The reason: officials wanted to allow existing water plant debt to drop off — in 2021 and 2023 for water plant upgrades in the late 1990s — before incurring approximately $8 million in new debt for the GAC project.

This would have increased the likelihood that the city could build the GAC system without increasing water rates, officials indicated.

City Administrator Jeff Leonard, Law Director Sean O’Donnell, water plant Superintendent Adam McDowell and his assistant, Joe Ewers, journeyed to Columbus last week to meet with OEPA officials to discuss the matter.

O’Donnell explained that OEPA wants the city to move faster to help its satellite customers — like Brunersburg and Ayersville who purchase water from Defiance — avoid higher TTHM levels.

“They want us to move because of the satellites,” O’Donnell. “... We need to have the water at the right level. They (satellites) in turn can provide that quality water to their customers.”

Noted Mayor Mike McCann: “In some regard we don’t have a choice. It’s either we get this project done in a timely fashion or we are under (OEPA) findings and orders, paying (potentially) ridiculous fines.”

“We are going to come back to them with a counterproposal to their timeline and try to work something out, and if we’re just too far apart that’s when you might see them take other measures,” said O’Donnell. “They want to see the design work done by next year and work started next year.”

According to McDowell, OEPA wants a construction plan submittal date in July 2020, which would allow advertising for the project to begin in September 2020 and construction to begin in December 2020. Substantial completion is listed as February 2022 under that timeline, he noted.

The work would require construction of a new building east of the Baltimore Road water treatment plant, according to McDowell.

He explained that the city has participated in two recent pilot projects to determine whether the GAC system would effectively remove TTHMS and other concerns while addressing taste and odor issues. Both were positive, McDowell indicated.

He said the GAC technology “does a lot of good things for water,” but not by adding chemicals. Rather, it is “just another filter,” he added.

McDowell explained that the system “should give us a better water quality than we’ve had in the past by far. ... It’s been a very long process to get to this point. It’s been a financial decision to hold this off as long as we can and play the numbers game that works for the ratepayers. I cannot wait for it to be finished.”

As for potential water rate increases with an accelerated timeline, McDowell said: “I think we’re optimistic it’s not going to be substantial.”

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